One of my favorite Roz Chast cartoons shows a woman in her forties or fifties wearing a flowing baggy dress with a wild hairstyle and clunky jewelry. The words read: Are you entering your “Goddess” years? Have you gotten heavily into herbal teas, especially the “soothing” varieties? Has your husband recently purchased an expensive sports car? What’s with the hair? This cartoon makes me convulse with laughter and cringe with a bit too much recognition. Am I her? Am I that? Is she my future?
Two and a half years ago, when I first started writing this Red Diaper Dharma column, I did it as a way to explore and expose the truths in my extended family, a family that held its secrets tight, and that showed, I felt, one face to the world and another face to itself. I come from Red (Communist) roots, a fourth-generation Red Diaper Baby raised in a Jewish-Atheist-Marxist family.
I wrote about this Redness: our Communist/Socialist history, and about my relationship to my grandmother, and to Christmas, and to politics. I wrote about pain and estrangement and how I fit into my large family. And then my grandmother died, and my oldest friend’s mother (my “other mother”), and my Aunt Lee — and I wrote about the desolation of all that grief.
I wrote about diapers, too — metaphorically. My daughter’s. Though I was years from changing physical diapers, I was still caring for her. I wrote about how we talked about sex. About all the things I learn from her. I wrote about the legacies, the teachings, and the dharma that I’d learned from my family — what I’d taken as my own, and what I was bringing to my daughter’s upbringing. I also wrote about my marriage — the celebration of twenty years together, and the pain of a mid-marriage abortion, and how we parented together.
The topic and focus of my column were clear to me: Red. Diaper. Dharma. How does my identity reflect my family’s teachings? What does my daughter take from all this? What am I teaching my child?
Lately, writing this column has become harder. I’m shifting away, the camera on the tripod still focused on the frame I’m leaving. Snapshots show only an arm, a foot still visible. What’s the focus now, I wonder? I know only what I don’t want to do.
I don’t want to write about the Red anymore. I’ve explored the family legacy as far as I need to right now. With the old generation gone, I’ve moved up. Where I come from no longer feels so pressing a concern. Where I am and where I’m going matter more.
And, more and more, I don’t want to write about the diaper. My daughter is in her mid-teen years. As the old saying goes, “Little children, little problems, big children, big problems.” Although there is nothing about Annie that is a big problem, still, her concerns are more and more adult concerns, and not for me to write about. My husband is living out of the country for many months this year and the next, and possibly a third. Our relationship is tight and loving and changing. My personal life has become, for the first time in a long time, personal.
If I squint closely into the future, I guess I might be writing now about the dharma. Over the years, my interest in exploring my spiritual side has grown deeper. I’m in a mentoring group in which my teacher brings in meditation, breathing, psychological inquiry practices, focusing, and the teachings of the 8th to 13th century Kashmiri Tantras. The work is intense, absorbing, fulfilling . . . and something I need to be silent about.
Kashmiri Tantras? Well, woo woo woo. Am I, indeed, entering my “Goddess” years? I’m closer to 50 than 40, though I still look younger. Am I becoming a middle-aged semi-hippie woman whose children are moving on, and maybe her husband, too, who goes up to Harbin Hot Springs to hang out naked and meditate, whose house, long ago filled with edgy punk images, now holds Buddhas, Tibetan prayer flags, and meditation bells — is she me? The old punk rocker in me, voted Ms. Irony 1982, scoffs. Yet, what’s on my mantel? Who is that meditating daily? I’m happy. I’m settled within myself. I am finally listening and learning instead of plunging ahead and doing.
I’m on a road that excites me but doesn’t provide clarity, so it makes it hard to know where this column is going. While it will be different — because I’m different — I don’t want to stop writing it. After all, it’s still an appropriate title: Red Diaper Dharma. RED — where I come from. DIAPER — the mothering practices I’ve been participating in for sixteen years. DHARMA — the things I’m about to learn.